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  • Writer's pictureJohn B. Reyna

Hiring delivery drivers? Don’t let a minor become a major liability.

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

Food delivery became an enormous part of restaurant life during the Covid-19 pandemic. And while order volume has slipped from the height of the pandemic, most restaurant owners have accepted that food delivery is a long-term part of their business plans.

Restaurants can choose to hire their own delivery drivers or utilize third-party delivery services like DoorDash and Uber Eats. For restaurateurs who choose the former, it's essential to know the laws regarding minor-aged delivery drivers. So let's fasten our seat belts and tour the Fair Labor Standards Act’s provisions regarding minor-aged workers as drivers.

Can an employee under 17 years of age drive a motor vehicle as part of their employment?

No. Employees 16 years old and under may not drive motor vehicles on public roads as part of their jobs. It doesn't matter if the employee possesses a valid state driver's license.

Can a 17-year-old employee drive a motor vehicle as part of their employment in a non-food delivery capacity?

It depends. The Department of Labor (“DOL”) only permits incidental and occasional driving by 17-year-olds. For seventeen-year-olds to drive as part of their employment, the driving and the driver must satisfy specific requirements (e.g., driving is limited to daylight hours).

Can a 17-year-old employee drive a motor vehicle as part of their employment as a food delivery driver?

No. One of the requirements for 17-year-olds to drive as part of their employment is that the driving may not include urgent, time-sensitive deliveries. The DOL defines the term urgent, time-sensitive deliveries as “trips which, because of such factors as customer satisfaction, the rapid deterioration of the quality or change in temperature of the product, and/or economic incentives, are subject to timelines, schedules, and/or turn-around times that might impel the driver to hurry in the completion of the delivery.”

The DOL considers urgent, time-sensitive deliveries to include the delivery of pizzas and prepared foods to customers.

What if my restaurant only delivers within a two-mile radius?

That doesn’t change the outcome. Urgent, time-sensitive deliveries do not depend on the delivery's points of origin and termination.

What if my restaurant takes extra precautions to ensure that my 17-year-old driver has adequate time to safely complete deliveries?

First, you’re fighting an uphill battle against DOL’s explicit prohibition against anyone under 18 driving prepared foods to customers. But since you like to live dangerously, I’ll entertain this scenario.

A delivery that would not usually fall within the definition of an urgent, time-sensitive delivery will become one if a 17-year-old driver is given instructions that imply a requirement for hurried delivery. As a former delivery driver and restaurant manager, I know there is always an implied requirement for hurried food delivery. I’ve never met a restaurant owner or manager who was ok with hot food arriving cold. Also, restaurant owners and managers always urge delivery drivers to rush back to pick up the subsequent delivery order. Either way, I don’t see you winning this argument.

Final thoughts.

Don't hire food delivery drivers under 18 years old. It’s that simple.

The firm provides this material for informational purposes only. The firm does not intend for this material to constitute legal advice. Nor does this material create a client-attorney relationship between the Texas Hospitality and Non-profit Law Center, PLLC and any recipient.

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